Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Steve Young says 49ers locker room ‘fraught with terror’

Marc Adams
Oct 28, 2021 at 12:37 PM--

It's the time of year when many people like to focus on scary things. Whether it's scary movies, haunted houses, witches and ghosts, or pumpkins being carved, it's the season of screams and heart-racing stories. As we prepare for Halloween weekend, and as the San Francisco 49ers prepare to travel to Chicago to play the Bears, Hall of Famer Steve Young is seeing something else that is striking terror within his mind...the 49ers locker room.

On Wednesday, Young was a guest on KNBR Radio for his weekly appearance on the Tolbert, Krueger and Brooks Show to discuss the 49ers loss to the Colts last Sunday night. Young is big on locker room dynamics. And right now, he doesn't believe the 49ers have a strong locker room, mainly because of some key losses, but also because of what went on with Jimmy Garoppolo, and the quarterback situation, in the offseason.

"I give Jimmy a tremendous amount of credit for dealing with this through March, April, May, June, July, and August really well. And into September, really," Young said. "Better than you can even ask somebody to kind of buck up, go play well, look for your next job, deal with it every day in the locker room. So, it's been the undercurrent of everything that's happened in training camp and on. It's what's happening at quarterback.

"And the team, the locker room, you guys have heard me talk about the locker room, has its own heartbeat, its own ecosystem, and in 2019, we had the best locker room in the league. And why we went to the Super Bowl was a lot of reasons, but the main reason was the resiliency of that locker room, and the leadership, and the people that came out of it, the people that spoke for it. They dealt with all the problems. They didn't need the coach to come in and deal with it. They dealt with all the hard things that came up week in and week out."

The 49ers played in the Super Bowl in February of 2019. A month later, the team traded star defensive tackle DeForest Buckner. Less than a month after that, longtime left tackle Joe Staley retired. After the 2020 season, when cornerback Richard Sherman, a free agent at the time, wasn't re-signed, the leadership void was deepened. Buckner, Staley and Sherman were the team's top three leaders.

Young has noticed the difference in the locker room dynamics, especially on Sunday. "I sensed in the game on Sunday, just against the Colts, I always think about who has the more resilient locker room," Young continued. "I'm watching the game, thinking about it, watching, and you can feel it. Maybe it's just me, but I can watch and feel the resiliency. And I feel our locker room is not great, and I'm worried that it's fraught with terror because now, six weeks in, Trey would be playing if he was ready to play. It's too late, so we're in.

"Because he's not ready, now Jimmy, about two weeks ago when he hurt his calf, I watched him, and I just felt, when he announced that he was going to be out a couple of weeks...that things have changed. He's still bucking up, and he says the right things, and he acts right, but the spirit of playing this out and how he feels about it just feels to be different. And especially as we're losing, it just gets harder. So now, here we are. Now, we set the stage. Where do you go?

"Well, it's too late to turn back. Trey can't play right now because then you get into the Justin Fields problem. The Justin Fields problem is now he's got to play again. And let's say it goes worse. Now, what do you do? You bench him again, and then he doesn't have the resiliency to stay on the field, and then Andy [Dalton] plays, and then we're at the end of the season. Do we even have a guy?...Things move quick."

The pressure is on Kyle Shanahan right now. If the 49ers continue to lose, his critics will grow even louder. According to Young, the coach can't worry only about fans and media. He has to pay special attention to the locker room.

"As a coach, you can say, 'Oh, don't worry about it. We'll keep developing the player.' But remember, it's a three-ring circus. It's three rings," explained Young. "The main ring is what's on the locker room, the field, the guys, the coaches. But there's another ring — the public, the fans. And then there's another ring — the media. You think that the circus tent doesn't cover all three and that you've got to deal with all three, you're kidding yourself. And so, as that evolves, that's why it's fraught with terror because the Justin Fields situation is, let's say he plays again next week, it's worse...what [do you do now]? The only thing they can do is fire Matt Nagy at the end of the year, and then start off with a new coach and hope Justin Fields becomes a player. You can see how complicated it can get, how fast.

"And that's what you don't want to have here, a young Trey Lance, hasn't played much, looks like I said, awesomely raw. So, that's awesome. But you don't want to end the year without an upswing of, 'Look, we have the answer.' We went all in to find the answer, and we think we have it. You don't want it to be, 'Well, we still think we have it,' but the media is like, 'We don't have it,' and the fans are like, 'We don't have it.' That's a problem. And that's why exposing somebody who's not ready to play is a problem."

Young continued, "But then Jimmy goes and plays, and you can see that the locker room wants to support somebody. Two good guys. This is a Super Bowl roster, and they want that locker room to be cohesive. And this situation has made it very difficult to have a cohesive locker room even though both guys have played their parts really well. They're not toxic. They're trying to do the best they can. So, that's why I say it's fraught with terror because you just hope that something positive comes out of Chicago, and if there's something positive that comes out of Chicago, we can eke out some more weeks through this thing without too much more damage to the season, to Jimmy, to Trey. The more damage that Jimmy has, then we have to move Jimmy, and there's nothing being offered. Or Trey is damaged because he's young and hasn't played well. Now, the season's over because we're now 3-8. That's why it's fraught with terror."

Young said the 49ers were at a place last week where they needed to do something to stop the bleeding, but now things have gotten worse, because it exposed the locker room. Regardless of who plays moving forward (regardless of the position), this team has to play good football and win some games.

You can listen to the full interview below.

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